5 Tips to End Workplace Conflict Once and For All

UPDATED: March 17, 2016
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2016

Take a few minutes to reflect on the last 30 consecutive days you were in the office. Can you honestly report that everything was perfect, that no issues or problems occurred amongst your team?

Chances are you can’t—and you wouldn’t be alone in your response. The truth is, navigating conflict at work is more common than most of us realize. It takes up a great deal of time and energy that could be used in more productive ways. Yet we allow it to get the best of us. And for what?

Related: Hate Office Drama? Stop Reacting to It

Conflict can kill team morale and cost companies millions of dollars each year in lost productivity. Ultimately, this creates a precarious situation for the company’s bottom line and could put your own job in jeopardy, whether you are a top manager in charge of revenue or an employee who is wasting time dealing with the drama directly. Either way, you are faced with a tough situation that’s a losing battle as long as you allow such drama into your work environment.

My advice? Go straight to the source and stop drama in its tracks so that you can devote your time and energy to more constructive efforts at work. But before that can happen, you must understand where it all stems from.

For many, workplace conflict is highly personal. In essence, most believe that personality clashes or co-worker incompetencies are to blame for their issues. But I struggled to believe that theory to be true. How would you ever reach a true solution to this problem? You can’t change people overnight, there had to be more to it.

After years of speculation on this topic, I decided to go deeper and conduct some research on what the true source of workplace conflict could be. The results proved very interesting, as the root cause of conflict was determined to stem from a lack of clarity in the workplace rather than personal issues. In fact, teams in conflict reported much higher levels of ambiguity in three categories of work: team goals, roles and procedures. So, while it’s tempting to place blame or point the finger in challenging times, there isn’t really anything personal about workplace conflict. If you back up and look at the facts, a lack of clarity in our direction and behavior is what’s truly to blame.

To end conflict and create a more peaceful, productive work environment, consider the following techniques:

1. Do a reality check.

A great deal of the conflict we encounter is manufactured in our own minds. When faced with conflict, we tend to quickly move from the bare facts of the situation and create our own mental story that portrays us as helpless victims. Get back to the facts of the situation by editing out anything that you can’t absolutely know to be true. When faced with conflict, ask yourself, What is the next action I could take that would add the most value to the situation? Place your energy into that action.

2. Understand your motives.

Would you rather be right or happy? To be right involves others seeing you as competent, correct, and approving of you and your work. To be happy is to have achieved the goals at hand and to enjoy the results of your efforts. Pray that you may be released from your need for love, approval and appreciation. Without those motives, you can lead others to avoid conflict and achieve goals.

3. Lead by example.

The only thing missing in a meeting or situation is that which you are not contributing. Get rid of your double standards and stop expecting others to excel in areas that you yourself have not yet mastered. Come from a more objective place that does not stem from blame, negativity or ambiguity, and encourage the same among your team.

4. Keep an open mind toward others.

When faced with different personalities at work, attempt to see through their behaviors in order to identify their needs or goals. Ask yourself, What are they striving for? Once you identify their goal, ask yourself, How could I help them achieve their goal? As long as it’s ethical, depersonalize the situation, stop the judgment and move forward.

5. Offer a higher perspective.

Learn to sense when conflict is brewing and be prepared to move quickly to a professional perspective by bringing the group back to the common goal. Keep it neutral and help them refocus as needed.

In times of conflict, what your team needs most from you is not your agreement, investigation, explanation or even your empathy. They need you to step up and help them see their circumstances differently so that they can create better results. Yes, it takes time and courage to tackle these issues head on, but in the end it will enable your team to be more productive and effective, creating a healthier bottom line for your organization.

Related: 5 Strategies for Overcoming Conflict

Cy Wakeman is a national keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times best-selling author, blogger and trainer who has spent over 20 years cultivating a revolutionary, reality-based approach to leadership. For more on Cy, check out RealityBasedLeadership.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.